Secondary changes help Dallas Cowboys' defense

By The Sports Xchange  |  Dec. 1, 2017 at 8:20 PM
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FRISCO, Tex. -- When head coach Jason Garrett talked about changes the Dallas Cowboys were looking at on defense following three consecutive double-digit losses, the one that was acknowledged was the benching of cornerback Anthony Brown for rookie second-round pick Chidobe Awuzie.

The decision proved to be a success with Awuzie having an outstanding game with three pass deflections and not allowing a reception in coverage in the 38-14 victory over the Washington Redskins.

What Garrett didn't openly acknowledge last week, but alluded to when he said the team was looking at other areas in the secondary in hopes of stopping the rash of big plays, was that there would be changes at safety too.

That came in the form of former 2015 first-round pick Byron Jones alternating every two series against the Redskins with 2016 sixth-round pick Kavon Frazier.

That also proved to be a success as Frazier brought some physicality to run defense with some big hits.

Being physical is not a strong suit of Jones, who is more of a finesse athlete and is best in coverage.

"(Kavon) Frazier is a legitimate, natural, what we call a 'down safety,'" owner Jerry Jones said on his radio show on 105.3 The Fan Friday. "And I was really impressed with how he took advantage of his play-time last night and punished physically the Redskins. We need that. That's an important part of things to create that physicalness that you can get from that secondary. Got to be reminded he's not a linebacker. He's a quasi-linebacker when he's down like that, a quasi-linebacker safety.

"So, let's start with we need that in the defense, and I think that was impressive out there, the toll, his physicalness last night. Of course, Byron is a freak, in a positive way, athlete, and we need him playing center field."

Said secondary coach Joe Baker on Frazier, "He brought some physicality. I think everybody in the stadium felt it. He just really lit some guys up out there today and that does become contagious. It's one of the things that our defense is built on is physicality. So he was good."

Frazier has been very good on special teams all season. Now the Cowboys are using his aggressiveness within the regular defense.

It was especially important to help the poor run defense, which was largely the center of the team's downfall in the previous three games.

It also raises a big question regarding Jones' future. The Cowboys could pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract after this season, guaranteeing him roughly $9 million.

That seemed like a lock heading into the season. But now it's a legitimate question.

The Cowboys have openly acknowledged that Jones is not the best in run support. And while he has shown promise in coverage, there is still the fact that he has just two career interceptions.

REPORT CARD VS. REDSKINS

--PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Dak Prescott didn't have great numbers, completing 11 of 22 passes for 102 yards. But he did have two perfect touchdown passes to Jason Witten and Dez Bryant. He also had no turnovers, despite playing through a swollen throwing hand.

--RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Alfred Morris had 127 yards on 27 carries as the Cowboys were able to control the ball and the clock in the second half. They rushed 42 times for 182 yards as a team.

--PASS DEFENSE: A -- The Cowboys recorded four sacks, including two forced fumbles. They picked off two passes. Rookie cornerback Chidobe Awuzie had three pass deflections. The Redskins had trouble protecting the quarterback and coordinator Rod Marinelli went after Kirk Cousins.

--RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The Redskins rushed 19 times for 56 yards. The Cowboys' run defense was stout throughout. Anthony Hitchens led the way with a whopping 15 tackles. But S Kavon Frazier added six tackles in a rotation with Byron Jones. It proved to be a successful change.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: A - Ryan Switzer had an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown. The Cowboys forced a fumble on a punt. Dan Bailey made a 24-yard field goal and Chris Jones helped flip the field position with a 42.4-yard average on punts, including one downed inside the 5.

--COACHING: A - The Cowboys were frustrated and being questioned about everything following three straight blowout losses. Head coach Jason Garrett kept the team together and they finally finished in the second half.

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